The question now is whether the networks can sustain some of those gains and remain just as relevant as Barack Obama’s administration readies to take office.
The cable networks all saw their audiences increase on election night compared to 2004. CNN drew the biggest audience during primetime, 12.3 million total viewers, which also marked the network’s best night in its 28-year history. It was No. 2 overall behind ABC and jumped 98 percent from ‘04.
Fox News Channel saw more modest gains, up 12 percent over four years ago, but drew 9.04 million viewers, ranking fourth overall and topping CBS.
MSNBC had the biggest growth from four years ago, up 108 percent to 5.89 million total viewers, and it, too, bettered one broadcaster, Fox.
That came after a huge October for the networks. For perhaps the first time, the three all ranked among the top 10 most-watched cable networks in primetime, all more than doubling their average audience from the previous year.
FNC was second overall, averaging 3.37 million viewers, up 141 percent over October 2007. CNN ranked fifth overall, up 200 percent to 2.14 million, and MSNBC soared 223 percent, to 1.58 million, ranking ninth.
All three also made the top 10 in adults 25-54, the key news demo, with increases ranging from 160 to 241 percent.
No one expects that outrageous growth to continue now that the election is over, and each network certainly has some issues to deal with. But at least until Obama is sworn in, it seems all three will keep up their intensely political focus.
MSNBC would seem to have the most to lose. It built itself up as the liberal alternative to Fox News, with primetime hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow railing for Obama as a conservative president sat in the White House.
Now that a Democrat has won, can MSNBC hold people’s interest without the target of President Bush to rally against? The network seems to be doing its best to remain relevant to an Obama administration, recently changing its tagline to “The Power of Change.”
Fox News would also seem vulnerable with a new administration, as it rose to prominence with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly during the Bush era. But the network launched during the Clinton years, and it would seem to relish the new role of championing the underdogs.
Still, the network’s biggest challenge may be replacing well-respected anchor Brit Hume, who is retiring.
CNN, the least politicized of the three, saw the biggest gains among 25-54s in primetime last month, but it will need a big story to keep up its ratings in coming months. The network does best on breaking news, as evidenced during election night, one of the rare times it claimed a win over Fox News Channel.
If America’s focus shifts from Obama to, say, the ailing economy, CNN may hold up better than the others, with viewers tuning there to find out the latest on their money.
Source: MediaLIfe, November 12, 2008